An article written by two Atlantic Council employees that argues Washington should consider a more realistic approach to Russia caused quite the stir within the think tank.
The article, written by Emma Ashford and Mathew Burrows, says the US should “avoid a human-rights-first approach to Russia.” The authors suggest that the Biden administration should instead “seek to build a less aspirational policy toward Russia, minimize the use of sanctions, and look for incentives that might induce Moscow to take steps in line with US interests.”
Ashford and Burrows make an argument grounded in reality. The US does not have the power to control what happens inside Russia through sanctions and other unilateral means. The authors are not at all sympathetic to Russian President Vladimir Putin and don’t even suggest lifting sanctions that are currently in place. But at the hyper-interventionist Atlantic Council, the idea of taking a less hostile approach to Russia is out of the question to many of its employees.
Twenty-two Atlantic Council fellows signed a statement denouncing the article. “Their article is premised on a false assumption that human rights and national interests are wholly separate,” the statement reads. The statement ignores the fact that Washington cooperates with many countries with questionable human rights records, including some of the Atlantic Council’s top donors.
In the 2019 fiscal year, the embassy of the United Arab Emirates contributed over $1 million to the Atlantic Council. The UAE’s state oil company also chipped in over $250,000 for the think tank. Abu Dhabi is not the only Gulf monarchy that funds the Atlantic Council, the embassy of Bahrain donated somewhere between $100,000 and $249,000.
While the Atlantic Council’s Gulf funding is rarely questioned, the article from Ashford and Burrows caused some of its employees to complain about recent donations from Charles Koch, who funds the libertarian Cato Institute that advocates for a less interventionist foreign policy.
The Atlantic Council received a $4.5 million donation over five years from Koch that set up the New American Engagement Initiative (NAEI) and brought over some experts from the Cato Institute, including Ashford. According to its website, the NAEI aims to question the “prevailing assumptions governing US foreign policy, in particular with respect to the efficacy of military intervention and the lost potential of diplomacy.”
Atlantic Council fellows that signed the statement denouncing Ashford and Burrow’s article made it clear that to them, questioning US aggression is akin to spreading Russian propaganda. “The Koch industry operates as a Trojan horse operation trying to destroy good institutions and they have pretty much the same views as the Russians,” one person that signed the letter told Politico.
“The general view at the Atlantic Council is to send them back to the Cato Institute where they came from,” another person that signed the statement said. While they all had harsh words for Ashford and Burrow’s article, the people that spoke with Politico who signed the statement refused to go on the record and spoke anonymously.
One signatory to the statement did go on record in his criticism and published an article responding to Ashford and Burrow’s argument. Dylan Myles-Primakoff, who heads the Free Russia Foundation at the Atlantic Council, wrote a piece titled “America’s Russia policy must not ignore human rights.”
Myles-Primakoff argued that “Russia’s domestic politics and its foreign policy are inextricably linked.” His main example for this was what he described as the 2014 “invasion” of Ukraine that resulted in Russia annexing Crimea. Myles-Primakoff said the annexation of Crimea had a purpose in “Russia’s domestic politics.” He said the Russian government “sought to convince Russians that the inevitable result of a popular reform movement like Ukraine’s Euromaidan was not dignity and democracy, but violence and chaos.”
Myles-Primakoff is right that the Euromaidan protests that led to the ouster of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was democratically elected, caused Russia to annex Crimea, but he ignores crucial context. First, referendum after referendum shows the largely ethnic Russian population of Crimea favored joining the Russian Federation. This is also demonstrated by the fact that what Myles-Primakoff called an “invasion” was met with no violent resistance.
Second, Myles-Primakoff makes no mention of Washington’s role in the ouster of Yanukovych. The US threw its full weight behind the opposition in Ukraine during demonstrations in 2013 and 2014, an opposition that even had a neo-nazi element. A few weeks before Yanukovych was forced out, a recording of a phone call between then-US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and Victoria Nuland, who was working in the State Department at the time, was leaked and released on YouTube. In the now-infamous phone call, Nuland and Pyatt discussed who should replace the government of Yanukovych.
Like the ethnic Russians in Crimea, the ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region also rejected the post-coup government in Kyiv, sparking the war that has killed tens of thousands. The context of US involvement in the coup that sparked these events is crucial, especially when discussing what US foreign policy should look like in that part of the world. There’s an argument to be made that neither the annexation of Crimea nor the war in the Donbas would have happened the way it did if not for US intervention.
Myles-Primakoff took issue with Ashford and Burrows pointing out that US-Russia relations began rapidly declining around the 2011 and 2012 protests in Russia. Ashford and Burrows write: “US-Russia relations declined markedly in 2011-12 after then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton voiced support for protests in Moscow.” Myles-Primakoff says this line ignores the context of what was happening in Russia at the time and blames Putin’s decision to run for a third term and alleged fraud in the 2011 parliamentary elections for the damage that was done to the US-Russia relationship at the time.
But Myles-Primakoff again misses the mark with his argument. In 2011, Clinton voiced support for protesters in Russia and voiced concern over claims of fraud in the parliamentary elections. Putin responded by accusing Clinton of inciting protests. “They heard the signal and with the support of the US State Department began active work,” Putin said.
Myles-Primakoff described Putin’s comments as a “wild conspiratorial response.” While Putin may have been overstating it, he had real reasons to fear that the US was funding protesters and opposition groups in Russia. Clinton based her claims of election fraud on a report from an election monitoring organization known as Golos, which was accusing the Russian government of violating election laws before votes were cast in the 2011 parliamentary election.
At the time, Golos was funded by the US government through the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Golos was also receiving money from the National Endowment for Democracy, an organization that presents itself as a private company but is funded almost entirely by the US government.
The US government was also funding political parties inside Russia at the time. “We had been offering political training to every political party in Russia, to Putin’s own party, to the Communists, but also to Putin’s opponents,” Victoria Nuland told PBS in 2017 when discussing the 2011 elections. Although Nuland said the US was training Putin’s United Russia party through the NED and similar organizations, the party had rejected earlier claims from Nuland that they got funding from USAID.
With the US so deeply entrenched in Russia’s politics in 2011, Washington certainly had ways to influence Putin’s opposition, and these facts make the Russian president seem less paranoid than Myles-Primakoff would like readers to believe. Russia’s Central Electoral Commission eventually issued a report on the 2011 elections and found out of the 1686 reports on irregularities they investigated, 11.5 percent were confirmed to be true. Only 60 of the complaints were claims that voting results were falsified. In 2012, Putin kicked USAID out of Russia.
Myles-Primakoff also addresses jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who Ashford and Burrows described as “an open nationalist who is widely known to agree with Putin on many foreign policy questions; he backed the Russian seizure of Crimea and has made racist and Islamophobic remarks.”
Myles-Primakoff rebuked the claim that Navalny “backed” the annexation of Crimea by using a quote from Navalny in 2014. The opposition figure said, “Crimea was seized with egregious violations of all international regulations.” While this is a real quote from Navalny, Myles-Primakoff presented it out of context. Navalny made the comment while explaining that if he were president of Russia, he would not return Crimea to Ukraine.
Here’s what Navalny said in October 2014: “Crimea, of course, now de facto belongs to Russia. I think that despite the fact that Crimea was seized with egregious violations of all international regulations, the reality is that Crimea is now part of Russia. Let’s not deceive ourselves. And I would also strongly advise Ukrainians not to deceive themselves.”
Myles-Primakoff did not challenge the assertion that Navalny is a nationalist who has made racist and Islamophobic remarks. Due to past comments Navalny made, Amnesty International revoked his status as a prisoner of conscience, which is being spun by Western media as the result of a Russian government-backed smear campaign, but Amnesty denies that claim. “Reports that Amnesty’s decision was influenced by the Russian state’s smear campaign against Navalny are untrue,” the rights group said in a statement.
Ashford and Burrows also touch on what is perhaps the most important aspect of the US-Russia relationship: arms control. They argue that focusing on human rights inside Russia interferes with progress on arms control. Myles-Primakoff says this argument is irrelevant because Russia decided to extend New START, the vital nuclear treaty that would have expired in February, amid threats of sanctions from the new Biden administration. But extending New START is the bare minimum Washington and Russia could do.
As the two largest nuclear powers, the US and Russia have an obligation to the world to negotiate new treaties to dismantle their enormous arsenals. With the Biden administration slapping new sanctions on Russia over Navalny, it makes it much harder for Moscow and Washington to negotiate a new treaty. New START had a built-in five-year extension, so renewing the treaty took little more than a phone call. A brand new treaty would require good faith.
But most funders of the Atlantic Council have no interest in nuclear treaties or easing tensions with Moscow. The think tank receives contributions from the top US weapons makers, including Raytheon, General Atomics, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The Atlantic Council is also funded by NATO, an alliance that has an interest in keeping tensions high and presenting Russia’s annexation of Crimea as an unprovoked “invasion.”
With these facts in mind, it’s no surprise that Ashford and Burrows’ article caused such a stir within the Atlantic Council. By making such a fuss over a mild criticism of Washington’s hostile approach to Russia, the Atlantic Council fellows showed their hand.
66 thoughts on “War Erupts Inside the Atlantic Council Over Article Questioning Washington’s Hostile Approach to Moscow”
It would be impossible to unpack the total delusions, lies, fact free arguments of these cretins at Atlantic Council.
After all, their position, salary, hence career, depends on the lies, russiaphobia-it is not a successful route to wonder if this stupidity really makes any sense at all.
Notably, this quote says it all:
While they all had harsh words for Ashford and Burrow’s article, the people that spoke with Politico who signed the statement refused to go on the record and spoke anonymously.
They must justify the defense budget and alliances. That is the one overwhelming need that explains all else. Every other explanation runs into the problem of being applied only where convenient.
It’s Swiftean, both contesting which side has the truth of a falsehood.
The funniest/craziest thing is that the article these people object to, that “the US should “avoid a human-rights-first approach to Russia””, it itself a ridiculous case of covering capitalist/imperial policy in human rights clothing.
In other words, the US never had a humans-rights first approach … we are not doing what we do in re to China, Russia, Iran, or any of the rest for human rights, democracy, or any other benign reason and getting is wrong, as is the allowed/tolerated range of expressed opinion on MSM. No, we do not mean well, we mean business! As Smedley Butler put it so long ago, war (and the US’s general foreign policy) is a racket.”
The reason the Atlantic crowd get agitated is not a fundamental disagreement with the “realist” crowd … no, they both agree the world is theirs for the looting. The disagreement is over means and methods. The Atlantic crowd want a thick veneer of “human rights” while funded by bone-saw people. The Realists prefer less dissembling and better-focused looting.
That the US should comply with president Washington’s “peace and free trade with all, entangling alliances with none” is not even in the running in the imperial capital, thought he great majority of the citizens would support it.
Focusing by U.S. think tanks on human rights in other countries is, hypocritically, designed not only to attack the familiar Russia target (as in this case) but also to lessen attention toward the miserable human rights situation in the U.S., based largely but not entirely upon racism. The U.S. situation goes without much attention by other world governments which are not inclined to get involved in another country’s domestic situations including human rights. It’s just something we must live with. The preponderance of influence by the so-called analysts and experts, financed by corporations, is what in large part drives US policy when the citizens are denied any democratic voice on issues.
You like giving Russia, China, Iran, and others a pass on Human rights violations, but when it comes to Israel, you are relentless of accusing Israel of nonexistent, non factual, non-evidential human rights violations.
Only the evidence of our lying eyes.
US policy on Russia is not focused on human rights. It is focused on finding excuses to bash Russia.
If human rights were the real concern, it would apply in many more cases. It gets this focus ONLY for those the US opposes for other reasons.
Another example is Iran. It has human rights issues, but for every such issue our allies in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf are ALL worse, many of them much worse. So what is the motive? It isn’t the human rights. That is the excuse.
Russia calls itself a democracy, the Arab countries you referred to are still 18th century eastern monarchies, no more can be expected, they are what they are.
The worst human rights records have been held for a long time now by Israel & USA.
Were are facts were is the evidence, were is the honesty, were is the credibility
The Brits said it best “… the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
Any eruptions over North Korea? President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken may not fully appreciate the swirling waters their entering.
I sense North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un won’t give US diplomatic personnel the time between now and the next US president. A meeting would only invite more disagreements and further sanctions. Why allow that to become de rigueur?
Aside from regional states as the Russians and Chinese, Mr. Kim might be inclined for rare consultations with South Korea.
It must be understood that the Jong-Un family will not feel secure till they reunify with South Korea under Kim’s terms. That is their only goal. Every tactic they use politically or militarily is to control all of Korea. Thy want to do this without firing a shoot.
I don’t think it’s a possibility, though until about two years ago I was optimistic. It might be sufficient that both sides continue engagement in trade and family reunifications efforts.
Washington will be the wet blanket and North Korea has better partners in Russia, China, and other nations not pandering to Washington.
That technique didn’t work out well for East Germany, but good for the rest of us. Move business like Samsung, KIA, Hyundia to North Korea and see what happens.
Still Russia begs to be accecpted . Still it issues communicaque for partnership in crisies like Syria,Afghanistan,Iran,and Ukraine. What a pathetic sense of self identity and what a crminal state of affairs to self preservstion!
Notice how the usa(just everybody else for that matter) looks the other way when a friend commits the same crimes?
“that might induce Moscow to take steps in line with US interests.”
Even the authors of the article, Emma Ashford and Mathew Burrows, are cretins. why should Moscow care about “US interests” which most often are diametrically opposed to Russian interests,
Even more often “US interests” are diametrically opposed the US interests.
Let me know when we stop engaging with the tyrants of Saudi Arabia because human rights.
Not to mention an apartheid practicing regime’s lobbying group that once said: “You see this napkin? In 24 hours, we could have the signatures of 70 Senators on this napkin.”
Just wanted to let you know that Dreher gave me the heave-ho at TAC. I called his card on his mangled representation of a blog post by a guy I happen to know.
Thanks so much for the kind words the other day. Great to know someone notices a good effort, and not at all surprised it was you. I always enjoyed your comments, too.
I’ll give it a year or so, then be back under a different handle. Best of luck in the meantime.
Roll steady. Don’t know why Dreher sometimes get snitty like that, and sometimes he doesn’t.
Unlike the Russian and North Korean political culture, assassination’s by poisonings your political rivals is not part, of the American political culture and history.
This is a heated argument, not a war. Please choose your words more carefully.
The CIAtlantic Council “article” also blathered about Amerikastan trying to split Russia from China. Best of luck with that, Amerikastanis.
Perhaps Star Trek cemented the idea that space was the last frontier.
What minerals and riches could possibly be mined from ocean depths besides oil?
I know of one commercial entity that is attempting to mine the ocean floor. Otherwise, it doesn’t seem to be a popular notion if one considers the technical depth and the distance from Earth to achieve those potential riches.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZI5AulS82Ds Billionaire Frank Giustra.
If anyone thinks that Russia will give up Crimea without a war, a big one, is delusionary. It is their warm water port, full of Russians.
What is going on here is a coded battle between fp realists and mono-polarists. “Human Rights” was invented by the Trilateralists to displace “International Law” in order to allow more latitude to US policy makers against Cuba, Chile, Central America, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, … for measures illegal under the old UN dispensation. But today the “mono’s” seem to many (insiders) to have exhausted their capital on their gross actions in the Middle-East, now requiring a shift in thinking and the acceptance of a multi-polar world.
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